In 1980, apparently, metaphor was illegal in music video

Exhibit A, the 1980 video for Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” — a great song, to be sure:

Too bad about that video, because HOLY CRAP it’s kind of amazing this effort didn’t kill the whole notion of music videos in its crib. After about the 5th or 6th time I realized the shot was directly and literally mirroring the lyrics, I started making notes. Follow along if you dare.

0:20 “laying everybody low”
As the Romeo actor saunters down a stylized hallway, actors he passes collapse to the floor.
0:47 “He’s underneath the window”
He is underneath a stylized featureless wall with a high window, in which our Juliet lounges.
1:03 “…the dice was loaded from the start”
A disembodied hand shakes and releases dice. The dice have Romeo and Juliet’s faces on them!
1:09 “…and you exploded in my heart”
The Romeo die explodes.
1:18 “…the movie song…”
New set, invoking a movie theater MST3K-style with patron silhouettes in front below a screen. Juliet is on the screen.
1:38 “..come up on different streets”
Romeo and Juliet sashay towards the camera down two parallel, stylized hallways — separated by a wall, natch. Is nothing is too on the nose for this director?
1:57 “…fall for chains of silver”
I think we have our answer.
1:59 “…chains of gold…”
We absolutely have our answer.
2:05 “…pretty strangers…”
A smiling, handsome man in a cheesy fedora rolls by in a T-top Camaro.
2:22 “…when we make love, you used to cry”
This guy makes Brian De Palma look subtle. It’s a tight shot of Juliet’s eye and a single, absurdly large tear. Obviously.
2:28 “…there’s a place for us”
Two folks enter the movie theater set, and take the only two seats left. At least the two people aren’t together, and aren’t Romeo and Juliet, so progress, maybe?
2:38 “…just that the time was wrong”
We’re still in the theater, but the film stops on a shot of Romeo trying to speak to Juliet — but the film stops, and the celluloid burns away! Tragic! Edgy! (And, I assume, completely baffling to millennials.)
2:52 “I can’t do the talk like the talk on the TV”
JESUS CHRIST JUST SHOOT ME. It’s a shot of woman’s disembodied legs wrapped around a small television, on which we see a nose-down shot of a male actor rapidly moving his mouth around as if he’s talking.
3:14 “All I do is miss you”
Our Romeo has fallen from a height and is splayed out, miserably, against a wall. This may seem like progress, but you will be disappointed, because it’s just a setup for what comes next.
3:17 “…and the way we used to be”
Juliet magically fades in, lounging beside him, and then fades away again.
3:23 “and keep bad company”
Romeo is still splayed out as before, but is now surrounded by a several sets of standing legs.
3:27 “kiss you”
Kisses mean lips! The shot cuts briefly from Romeo’s splayed form to a tight shot of Juliet’s lips, then back to Romeo, over and over.
3:39 “…used to cry…”
Improbably enormous tear shot repeats from 2:22.
3:46 “there’s a place for us”
We’re in the theater set again, but now it’s just R&J seated front and center watching a film of themselves lying on a rug together all cozy.
3:56 “it’s just that the time was wrong”
The movie versions of our heroes vanish, leaving the poignantly empty rug.
4:50
INTERPRETIVE DANCE; fadeout as Knopfler plays.

The delightful tale of the previously-fictional solo tape

This is pretty great.

Weeks before Chris Cornell died, Rolling Stone interviewed Cameron Crowe about the 25th anniversary of his film Singles and its soundtrack.

The film was shot just a tiny bit before grunge really exploded nationwide. 1991 was kinda ground zero for grunge releases — Nevermind, obviously, but also Mudhoney’s Every Good Boy record, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, the Temple of the Dog one-off, and others. Alice in Chains’ Dirt came out the next year. But, critically, when they were shooting this film, none of those records were out or successful. Pearl Jam wasn’t even Pearl Jam yet; they’d only just brought in Eddie, and were still called “Mookie Blaylock”.

So anyway: Seattle wasn’t SEATTLE yet, and none of those people were particularly famous. Crowe, living in Seattle and married to a local, was falling in love with the growing scene, which is where the film came from. People who became huge months later appear in the film in tiny parts — Jeff Ament is in Matt Dillon’s band, for example. Alice in Chains and Soundgarden are bands playing in bars. And, as you’ll read in the interview, these folks hung around the production, even when they weren’t working — including Cornell.

Anyway. As part of the arc of the film, Dillon’s character Cliff Poncier loses his girl, his band and goes solo, and as was the custom of the time makes a solo tape to hawk while busking. It was just a prop, but Ament actually designed it, right down to (fictional) song titles and whatnot.

And then something interesting happened; Crowe tells it:

It’s kind of amazing. The idea was that Matt Dillon’s character, Cliff Poncier, in the course of the movie, he loses his band, and he loses his girlfriend, and he gains soul. So, there’s a period where he’s on a street corner busking, having lost his band, but beginning his solo career. And there would be, in reality, these guys standing on the corner outside the clubs in Seattle hawking their solo cassettes. So we wanted Cliff Poncier to have his own solo cassette. And Jeff Ament, in classic style, designed this cassette cover and wrote out these fictitious song names for the cassette.

And Chris Cornell was another guy who was close to us when we were making the record, and still is a good friend. I really loved Soundgarden; they were my favorite band. I originally thought Chris could play the lead, but then I think that turned into too big of a commitment for everybody and so he became the guy he is in the movie, but in the course of making the movie he was close to all of us. He was always around.

Anyway, Jeff Ament had designed this solo cassette which we thought was hilarious because it had all of these cool song titles like “Flutter Girl,” and “Spoonman,” and just like a really true-type “I’ve lost my band, and now I’m a soulful guy – these are my songs now” feeling. So we loved that Jeff had played out the fictitious life of Cliff Poncier. And one night, I stayed home, and Nancy, we were then married, she went out to a club, and she came back home, and she said, “Man, I met this guy, and he was selling solo cassettes, and so I got one for you.” And she hands me the Cliff Poncier cassette. And I was like, “That’s funny, haha.” And then she said, “You should listen to it.” So I put on the cassette. And holy shit, this is Chris Cornell, as Cliff Poncier, recording all of these songs, with lyrics, and total creative vision, and he has recorded the entire fake, solo cassette. And it’s fantastic. And “Seasons” comes on. And you just can’t help but go, “Wow.” This is a guy who we’ve only known in Soundgarden. And of course he’s incredibly creative, but who’s heard him like this? And we got to use “Seasons” on the soundtrack, and Chris did some of the score.

How neat is that?

Dept. of Unnerving Overlap with Republicans

I had, until today, somehow escaped knowing that Joe Scarborough also (a) went to UA (class of 1985, according to Wikipedia) and (b) is an R.E.M. fan.

This particular fact came to my attention because of this tweet,

Screen Shot 2017 01 05 at 12 59 57 PM

Vinyl Solution (singular, Joe, not plural) is gone now, but when I was in Tuscaloosa (summer ’87, and then ’88-’94), VS was the place to go for new music. There were chain stores (including a Turtle’s, back when they gave out stamps), but VS was place to be. I bought my first Dylan there, my first Velvet Underground, and my copy of the #1 Record/Radio City combo disk from the owner’s favorite band, Big Star. On my infrequent visits back after leaving, I still made a point of dropping in and buying something. When George closed it to retire, it was like my youth shutting its doors, but, you know, sic transit gloria mundi.

The insurgency began and you missed it.

Seminal R.E.M. album Lifes Rich Pageant, an evergreen work and perennial member of any official Heathen desert-island disk list, turns 30 years old today.

In the 80s, I kept the tape in the car, unless I needed inside. When I started replacing tapes with CDs, a bonus was that I could keep the CD in the house and the cassette in the car, so I had it everywhere. In the MP3 era, it’s always been on my phone for easy access anywhere. And, obviously, as I write this, it’s playing in my office using technology that was science fiction at its release three decades ago.

Here’s a great appreciation of the record, courtesy of the R.E.M. twitter feed, which contains other gems for the faithful.

“I’m John Laurens in the place to be!”

A few fine quotes about Hamiltons’ pal John Laurens:

[Laurens] became close friends with his fellow aides-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton and the General Marquis de Lafayette. He showed reckless courage at the battles of Brandywine, Germantown in which he was wounded, and Monmouth, where his horse was shot out from under him. After the battle of Brandywine, Lafayette observed that, “It was not his fault that he was not killed or wounded … he did every thing that was necessary to procure one or the other.”

Unfortunately, his luck ran out at the 1782 Battle of the Combahee River in South Carolina, when he was only 27. Washington said

In a word, he had not a fault that I ever could discover, unless intrepidity bordering upon rashness could come under that denomination; and to this he was excited by the purest motives.

And, of course, from Hamilton himself:

I feel the deepest affliction at the news we have just received at the loss of our dear and inestimable friend Laurens. His career of virtue is at end. How strangely are human affairs conducted, that so many excellent qualities could not ensure a more happy fate! The world will feel the loss of a man who has left few like him behind; and America, of a citizen whose heart realized that patriotism of which others only talk. I feel the loss of a friend whom I truly and most tenderly loved, and one of a very small number.

John Laurens is buried in land that is now a Trappist monastery (Mepkin Abbey) in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

(Laurens was the only of Hamilton’s crowd to die before he did. Hercules Mulligan died in his eighties, and is buried at Trinity Church, which is also where you’ll find Hamilton’s tomb. Lafayette died at 76; he’s interred in Paris, covered in small part by soil brought over from Bunker Hill. An American flag always flies over his grave.)

Maybe you’re confused. It’s everywhere, but what IS it?

Hamilton is pretty much on fire, but I admit I wasn’t really receptive until the JoCoCruise. I had apparently even skipped the New Yorker article last February about Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Off-Broadway production (which you should track down and read, because it’s amazing, too.)

Anyway. That article mentioned the origin of the show: basically, Miranda got obsessed with Hamilton after reading Ron Chernow‘s biography, and started working on material. The first public airing of the work was the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and Spoken Word — in 2009.

Well, dear reader, you’re in luck; the piece then called “The Hamilton Mixtape” was taped. Here you go. First taste is free.

Actually, it’s the first TWO tastes, because for the Grammys they took a live feed from the theater to show the Grammy audience the first number of an actual performance of the show on Broadway. So here’s what that song became five years later. The lyrics are mostly the same; the biggest difference is that instead of all being from Burr, it’s split up between Burr, Laurens, Jefferson, Madison, Eliza, and Washington.

Make Time.

(Seriously, the embedded link is like watching that old footage of Prince playing “Purple Rain” for the first time. It’s amazing.)

Song Exploder’s Bowie Playlist

First, Song Exploder is brilliant, and you should be paying attention to it.

Second, this feature has a number of musicians discussing particular Bowie songs, and includes John Roderick on Space Oddity (reproduced below). This is awesome because, of course, Roderick has a lost-astronaut song of his own that I’ve seen him play live.

Space Oddity is the original and still the best lost astronaut song, released only a few days before the Apollo 11 launch in 1969. It was originally a current events song! Maybe even a novelty song, if the events in question weren’t so solemn. All the more of an accomplishment, then, that it still sounds futuristic and provokes anxiety 47 years later. In 1969 space travel seemed poised to become mundane–we would soon all be living on space stations, wearing jumpsuits and enjoying science drinks–but Bowie sided with Kubrick that, in addition to metaphysical magic, suburbia, celebrity, and product placement and malfunction would follow us to the stars. Like so much of Bowie’s music, Space Oddity has themes and sounds that in less adroit hands would be corny. The countdown at the top of the song and the horn swell “rocket ship taking off” are so literal you almost roll your eyes, but Bowie’s voice is so urgent you lose all desire for detachment. It’s hard for us now to imagine the emotional moment of 1969, with all the war, violence, unrest and upheaval taking place. The world-historical venture into space, armed with science and human confidence, wasn’t yet a fait accompli. We still could have fucked it up, left dead astronauts on the lunar surface, surrendered to the impossibility of Kennedy’s hubristic challenge and Vietnammed ourselves into a death throe. Instead, we succeeded, and Bowie more than any other artist made outer space the dominant theme of his work for many years after. His persona allowed him to comment on contemporary events from a place that felt like objectivity. Bowie saw us like an alien might, but he loved us and got bloody with us because he was trapped here, or emigrated here on his own, so he took our side. Bowie screeched and squawked and filled his music with unearthly noises and we accepted it because we were so flattered that this metallic space Phoenix was interested in talking to us. The appeal of the Rolling Stones was that you were supposed to feel lucky some cool junkies invited you to listen to their sex party through a keyhole, but Bowie had a message about the salvation of humanity. He seemed to be telling us that the looming apocalypse was survivable? Escapable, maybe? Maybe not, though. Maybe we should just quit fighting and have sex a lot until the fire tornados come? Maybe Major Tom experienced a malfunction and his spacecraft was lost, but more likely Major Tom severed his own tether for reasons known only to him. Maybe he saw something, or someone was waiting out there for him, or he realized the futility of our seeking, or he found what we’re all seeking in the eternal quiet.

More Bowie bits you shouldn’t miss

From the RS tribute issue:

  • Trent Reznor’s comments include Bowie helping him get sober: “I knew. I knew you’d do that. I knew you’d come out of that.“. You should absolutely click through to the 1994 tour performance wherein he and Bowie do “Hurt” together. (How the fuck did I miss that tour?)

  • Longtime Bowie bassist Gail Ann Dorsey — who also became his “Under Pressure” duet partner — was more or less plucked from near-obscurity to tour with him; her memories of him are here. On this one, don’t miss the video of “Under Pressure.”

This is probably obvious, but it bears pointing out: He planned it.

Bowie’s exit — the release of his album only days before his death, the video of “Lazarus,” the timing of it all — is in no way an accident, and was absolutely planned. His producer confirms it.

A commenter on Metafilter calls it a “nothing-but-net exit,” which to me just about sums it up.

You should never doubt that he was, in addition to so much else, an unstoppable conceptual bastard.

Dept. of Unlikely Name Collisions, Jazz Subdivision

Several years ago — and most likely via NPR — I became aware of a jazz bassist named Avishai Cohen.

This morning, a really nice video of him and his band playing was in my feeds; you can watch it here, and I suggest you do (ideally with headphones).

As I listened, I tried to go to Wikipedia for a background refresher on Cohen, and found something somewhat surprising.

I already thought it unusual that Cohen is an Israeli-born jazz musician; maybe it’s because I’m a middle-aged white man, but I don’t think of Israelis as being terribly well represented in jazz. So imagine my surprise when my Wikipedia search brought me this:

Avishai cohen

Yup. In addition to the Israeli-born jazz bassist Avishai Cohen (b. 1970, avishaicohen.com), there’s also an Israeli-born jazz trumpeter named Avishai Cohen (b. 1978, avishaicohenmusic.com), and they appear unrelated.

Neat. Maybe what the jazz world needs now is a collaboration?

On the big lake they call Gitche Gume

Forty years ago today, on November 10, 1975, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank with all 29 hands in an early winter gale on Lake Superior. You probably know the song about it.

I’ve mentioned this here before, but I’ll note again for the record that I was shocked to learn in my twenties that this 70s-soft-rock gem was, in the true folk tradition, about a current event, not something that happened in the age of sail. Gordon Lightfoot wrote and recorded the song only a month after the sinking, in December of 1975. To this day, nobody really knows what took her down — the weather was obviously a factor, and could’ve produced a massive wave, but that’s speculation.

There’s a whole host of links available at this MeFi thread that may be worth your time if you, like me, find the whole thing fascinating.

Of course, at the time, 1.9 billion was considered quite a lot of people.

Where were YOU thirty years ago today? And, more importantly, what were you listening to?

There is only one acceptable answer, assuming you were alive to do it: July 13, 1985 was the date of the only dual-continent concert I’m aware of: Live Aid. From Wikipedia:

Live Aid was a dual-venue concert held on 13 July 1985. The event was organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. Billed as the “global jukebox”, the event was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom (attended by 72,000 people) and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States (attended by about 100,000 people). On the same day, concerts inspired by the initiative happened in other countries, such as Australia and Germany. It was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time: an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast.

Who played? Well , just in case you can’t recall, here’s a partial list:

Wembley:

  • Boomtown Rats
  • Adam Ant
  • Spandau Ballet
  • Elvis Costello
  • Sade
  • Sting, Phil Collins, and Branford Marsalis
  • Howard Jones
  • Bryan Ferry with David Gilmour
  • U2 (in a performance that kind of established them as a HUGE live act — and this was before Joshua Tree)
  • Dire Straits
  • Queen
  • David Bowie
  • The Who
  • Elton John
  • Paul McCartney

JFK:

  • Joan Baez
  • Black Sabbath (with Ozzy!)
  • Run DMC
  • Rick Springfield
  • REO Speedwagon
  • CSN
  • Judas Priest
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Pretenders
  • Madonna
  • The Cars
  • Neil Young
  • Eric Clapton and Phil Collins
  • Duran Duran
  • Led Fucking Zeppelin (with two drummers, the better to mimic the missing Bonzo)

In this era of endless reunions, it’s probably hard to grasp how amazing that last part is; to my knowledge, Page, Plant, and Jones hadn’t shared a stage since Bonham’s death five years before. Zeppelin were just over. And then, here there they were.

Obviously, lots of amazing things happened at Wembley and and JFK — not the least of which is Phil Collins’ famous status as the only guy to play both venues, courtesy of the Concorde — but thirty years of discussion have led us to the inescapable conclusion that Queen turned in not just the best set of the day, but maybe the best set of rock and roll ever played on any stage.

Here you go.

Sadly, there actually aren’t any complete recordings of the whole affair — partly by design, actually. Queen were somewhat unique in that they captured their whole set, and later had it remastered in 5.1 for inclusion on their Queen Rock Montreal BluRay, which is well worth your time even if you’re only a casual Queen fan.

By the 70s, he was a joke. Except, occasionally, when he wasn’t.

He, of course, being Elvis.

On Twitter, author Lawrence Wright (The Looming Tower, Going Clear, etc.) calls our attention to this brief, brilliant performance of “Unchained Melody” apparently from a show at the Pershing Municipal Auditorium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on June 20, 1977.

Less than two months later, Presley was dead. Contrary to his commentary in the clip, the title of the upcoming album would be Moody Blue when it dropped in July of that year. Here at Heathen World HQ, we have a copy on vinyl.

Blue vinyl. Because 1977, obviously.

The finest son of Itta Bena

I saw him, once.

It was 27 years ago, when I was a lad of 18. In those days, he’d play with some frequency in a Palmer’s Crossing juke joint called the Hi-Hat Club, which was under ordinary circumstances not a place a skinny white kid would likely be welcome. Shootings there weren’t unheard of. Only four years later, a policeman would be hailed as a hero for killing a gunman there, which I remember only because the cop was married to a high school acquaintance. PTSD nearly did the cop in, too.

It was that kind of place, except when it wasn’t. And one of the times it wasn’t was when BB was in town.

Then as now, Mississippi doesn’t have a whole lot to be proud of, but music is something we do well, and BB has been a jewel in the Magnolia crown since the 1940s. He toured tirelessly, playing both fancy venues and dodgy clubs like the Hi-Hat (which, violent reputation or no, is also a stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail).

Anyway, so I went out there. I don’t remember my mother protesting at all, which is either selective recollection or evidence that she didn’t realize exactly where he was playing — and the latter seems really unlikely, because the Hi-Hat wasn’t exactly obscure; even going to Palmer’s Crossing at night was probably enough to worry some folks. Still, out I went, in a 1971 Chevy pickup.

As I recall, I tried to take my girlfriend, who refused to even ask her parents about going. Her relationship with them was weird, I guess, but she was clearly wrong because after I paid my cover and walked in — past the bar, where they served me a Michelob as quickly as I could ask for one, drinking age notwithstanding — I was immediately hailed by her father. In the absence of anyone else I knew, I sat with him and enjoyed the show in a room that was surprisingly mixed. We were absolutely the minority, but BB was BB, and I guess people who loved the music were welcome regardless of shade.

BB has been old forever. He was 89 when he died, which means he was “only” 62 for this particular gig, not that you could tell — the man knew how to work a crowd even though he played from a chair. He was famous for his guitar’s beautiful tone, but let me tell you no recording I’ve yet heard really captured it like I heard it that night. I was thrilled and a little shocked at how blue his stage patter was, but I suspect he tailored that to the room. At the Hi-Hat, where he’d played for decades, my guess is he probably did a lot less editing than he’d do in fancier clubs.

I’ve never sought out another set for whatever reason. I’ve had opportunities, sure, but truth be told my own blues preferences are a little louder and a little later — more Buddy Guy, say. But I’m awful glad I got to see the King, and do so in a small room in a no-shit Mississippi juke joint, illegally drinking beer with my girlfriend’s dad, late into a warm Mississippi night in 1988.

It’s Friday. You need some new music.

You should totally pick up on Zoe Keating.

Keating plays the cello, which is awesome from the getgo, but what she does is way more amazing than just that. She builds a composition in real time using only her cello and her laptop, using loops to create remarkable and amazing landscapes of sound. Her work is beautiful and haunting and absolutely worth your time. I’ve been a fan for years, and then had the fantastic good fortune to see her live on the JoCoCruise back in 2013. Here’s video of that performance, from YouTube:

I’m picking this video (and there are lots; Keating is savvy about internet fair use) for two reasons: one, Mrs Heathen and I were there watching (see here), and two, at that moment Keating was unaware of the terrible, rough road that lay ahead of her.

Soon after the end of the cruise that year, her husband Jeff was diagnosed with cancer. Her tangles with her health insurer made plenty of news, and should terrify everyone, but the real point is that in addition to dealing with her spouse’s life-threatening disease, she also had to force and shame her insurance company into covering his care. Oh, and raise a toddler. There’s that, too.

Keating’s husband had ups and downs in his treatment, but the initial diagnosis was pretty dire and included multiple metastasis sites. That’s a shitty hand to be dealt, and the endgame was probably already set before they even knew what was happening.

That end came yesterday.

It’s because of the peculiar nature of the JoCo cruise that I can tell you that yes, Keating is a terribly nice person, as was Jeff. If what you see and hear in the video above appeals to you, please consider buying some of her music today. They could use the help.

At least I’m in good company

Bono is apparently more crap at riding a bike than I am:

On the day of my 50th birthday I received an injury because I was over indulging in exercise boxing and cycling, which was itself an overcompensation for overindulging on alcohol coming up to the big birthday. I promised myself I would be more mindful of my limits, but just four years on, it happened again – a massive injury I can’t blame on anyone but myself, mainly because I blanked out on impact and have no memory of how I ended up in New York Presbyterian with my humerus bone sticking through my leather jacket. Very punk rock as injuries go.

[…]

Recovery has been more difficult than I thought… As I write this, it is not clear that I will ever play guitar again. The band have reminded me that neither they nor Western civilization are depending on this.

The whole thing is on an alphabet riff; scroll down for X for the inevitable X-ray of his repaired elbow, which looks even scarier than my repaired femur.

This is more time than anyone our age should have spent on Dr Hook, and yet it’s brilliant

Okkerville River’s Will Sheff is absolutely in love with an obscure German TV concert tape of Dr Hook & the Medicine Show (conveniently also on YouTube; he embeds bits to illustrate his points) and has written a truly remarkable analysis of it that is absolutely worth your time even if you’re only vaguely aware of who this band was. It is in particular compelling in its insight into the musical and interpersonal dynamics going on in a live performance, which I find fascinating.

When you’re done, check the comments. It turns out two members of the band show up there and weigh in, which is awesome (frontman Dennis Loccorriere, and guitarist Rik Elswit).

(Widely linked.)